We listen to sad music to feel nostalgic


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I once used iTunes to put together a playlist of a couple dozen versions of Walk Away Renee, which is – at least for me – pretty much the archetype of this kind of sad song. Instant heartache, with that immediate evocation of a love long-lost. Playing the list was a real wallow, even though some of the performances were pretty goofy.

For the record, the version that really wound up knocking me out (even though the style was off the beaten track) was by Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy.

Here’s a link; click if you dare.

(I have to mention the one line that’s never rung true for me; “you won’t see me follow you back home” is waaaay too stalker-creepy for my sensibilities.)

I’ve never had a sad music list, but I used to have a “Turn it up to 11” list of songs that work best blasted very loud. It was great for when I was in a horrible, no good, very bad mood.

I’m curious what songs are considered sad songs.

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The Counting Crows album Recovering The Satellites always did it for me. You want to get low, languish mid-day with the curtains shut, and plumb the black depths of isolation? Become Adam Duritz 1996 for awhile. (And I say this all in praise of a great album.)

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Lump in my throat every time.

(EDIT: “O Grande Amor” from that same album can do it, too.)

Not really a scientific source, but I recall an interview with Z’ev (RE/Search’s Industrial Culture Handbook) in which he claimed that hearing music caused a sympathetic reaction in one’s vocal chords (e.g. trying to match the pitch), so there’s a physical response.

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Try anything from American Music Club’s album ‘California’.
Blue and Grey Shirt gets me every time.

Or perhaps Cheshire Moon for a stroll through melancholy.

Edit: This guy, J. Person, from Soundcloud deserves a serious listen. Hardly any tunes, and never updated, but Christ, what a voice.

Also, sad music is sexy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxsrjHHsYNs

I couldn’t even tell you exactly what the lyrics mean–the ones I know are pretty neutral–but music-wise this is a sad song that I like

similarly, I dunno if this one is sad lyrically, but it sure is nostalgic

but lyrics-wise, this one will make you cry

@ChickieD (meant to reply)

People often label a lot of the music I listen to sad, yet the music they are talking about I find more ‘reflective’ than sad. Guess that matches up with the article.

Anyway, seems like more fun to join in creating the compendium of unbearably sad music, to which I would add these two:


Yes to Southampton Dock, But I actually picked “Two suns in the sunset” from that album for my “Tearjerkers” playlist I compiled last week for reasons that I can’t recall, but involved alcohol.

It came out, in no particular order, looking like:

  • Ruby Tuesday 4:38 Melanie Recordings Acoustic
  • The Ballad of Lucy Jordan 4:06 Marianne Faithfull A Collection of Her Best Recordings Easy Listening
  • Suzanne 3:53 Leonard Cohen Recordings Easy Listening
  • Leaving Green Sleeves 2:39 Leonard Cohen Recordings Easy Listening
  • Bird On A Wire 4:42 Jennifer Warnes Famous Blue Raincoat Soft Rock
  • Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad 5:26 Meat Loaf Bat out of Hell Rock
  • I Don’t Like Mondays 3:50 The Boomtown Rats Rock Stars (Disc 1) Rock
  • Perfect Day 3:42 Lou Reed Ballad
  • Hurt 4:03 Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around 1
  • Making Love Out Of Nothing At All 7:52 Bonnie Tyler Greatest Hits Orchestral Rock Bonnie Tyler
  • Goodbye Blue Sky 2:49 Pink Floyd The Wall (Disc 1) Rock
  • One More Night 4:51 Phil Collins Greatest Hits vol 1 Phil Collins
  • Two Suns In The Sunset 5:17 Pink Floyd The Final Cut Rock
  • Llorando (Crying) 1:51 Rebekah Del Rio Mulholland Drive Soundtrack Easy Listening 3
  • My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) 3:48 Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Rust Never Sleeps
  • Not Given Lightly 5:07 Chris Knox Not Given Lightly
  • No Surprises 3:49 Radiohead Now 39 - Disc 1 Rock/Pop
  • The Show Must Go On 4:24 Queen Greatest Hits II Rock
  • The heart of saturday night 3:54 Tom Waits The heart of saturday night Rock
  • Angie 4:34 Rolling Stones 100 top MP3 CD Classic Rock
  • Sylvia’s Mother 3:51 Dr Hook Recordings Easy Listening
  • Cat’s In The Cradle 3:48 Harry Chapin Pop
  • Old Man 3:25 Neil Young / Stray Gators Harvest Acoustic Neil Young
  • The Needle and the Damage Done [Live] 2:03 Neil Young Harvest Acoustic Neil Young
  • 07 - Hey You 4:39 Pink Floyd Pulse (Live) Rock
  • Year of the Cat 6:35 Al Stewart Rhymes in Rooms Classic Rock 100 1 Al Stewart

Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen represent well, as expected. Each of these has had me happy to be blubbering at some time. Together, they were unstoppable.
One mans schlock is another mans heartstrings. There would have been more Jim Steinman ballads in there, but they lifted the tempo too much…

However, all of these were humbled when I remembered:


I was tossing up “Gunners Dream” as well.

Awesome playlist you have there.

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Somehow I missed Jeff Buckley - hallelujah

I think I realized I didn’t have a clean copy in my collection so went off to iTunes to buy the album (and did) but did not add the track when the download finished.

I don’t think that “nostalgia” is really the correct term in the sense of its true definition, which implies a fondness for the past and a desire to return there. It seems to me the “nostalgia” here is simply remembering your own sad times, and that is combined with some type of empathy in the sense that the artist and other fans of the music understand and share the same feelings.

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What’s wrong with me that about a quarter of those songs are some of my favorite???

My sad song that I listened to pretty obsessively when I was going through the final stages of a failing marriage was Better Man by Pearl Jam:

Still love the song but I am grateful to not relate to it any longer.

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Well, I guess it is that, as the study looks at, we seek out and enjoy this form of sadness.
My starter list is of course songs I like to listen to also.

For me, I think it’s a way to experience (even if vicariously) an emotional extreme, as I’m a very lukewarm personality most of the time.

I think David is absolutely correct. I don’t think ‘nostalgia’ is the right word either. When you look at the chart it seems odd that the there are no emotional states listed there that seem to include that sense of gaining empathy from the music - of being understood, or at least gaining a sense through the music that this is a shared experience that others have gone through as well…

On a personal level, when I listen to sad music it’s not about throwing me back to days that I think of fondly, but it’s more often about connecting to a wider sense of sorrow. I think that Nick Cave / Leonard Cohen / Pink Floyd type of music somehow manages to covey the sense that we are simultaneously alone but also not alone all at the same time.

Oh - and one vote for Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind…

One last comment - there was a great This American Life episode that also talked in a fun and eloquent way about the power of the breakup / torch song… It’s an amazing story that features Phil Collins talking about his own marriage ending and writing ‘against all odds’. Great stuff and so full of empathy.

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